Stream All of Tom Waits’ Music in a 24 Hour Playlist: The Complete Discography

Some singers are born with the voic­es of angels, some with voic­es like bags of grav­el. Both, I’d say, are blessed in their own way. Take the haunt­ing, unfor­get­table Blind Willie John­son, the weirdo genius Cap­tain Beef­heart, and, of course, the inim­itable Tom Waits, whose mer­cu­r­ial per­sona has expressed itself as a down-and-out lounge singer, junkshop blues­man, Tin Pan Alley racon­teur, Broad­way show­man, and more. Each iter­a­tion seems to get grit­ti­er than the last as age weath­ers Waits’ sand­pa­per voice to a rougher and rougher cut.

Waits first emerged in 1973 with Clos­ing Time, an album Rolling Stone’s Stephen Hold­en described as “all-pur­pose lounge music… a style that evokes an aura of crushed cig­a­rettes in seedy bars and Sina­tra singing ‘One for My Baby.’” Though Waits is “more than a chip off the Randy New­man block,” Hold­en wrote, “he sounds like a boozi­er, earth­i­er ver­sion of the same.” The descrip­tion might cause some fans of Waits who dis­cov­ered him ten years lat­er with Sword­fishtrom­bones to fur­row their brows. Sure, we may always hear some Sina­tra in his song­writ­ing or deliv­ery, but a Randy New­man-like lounge singer? A lit­tle hard to fea­ture…. As Noel Mur­ray notes at The Onion’s A.V. Club, “Sword­fishtrom­bones has sound­ed more and more like a base­line for ‘nor­mal’” in Waits’ oeu­vre.

Although he has always drawn lib­er­al­ly from music of the past, in the 80s and 90s, he reached fur­ther back in time for his influ­ences and instrumentation—into the back cor­ners of ear­ly 20th-cen­tu­ry out­sider gospel and wash­tub blues, 19th-cen­tu­ry sea shanties and mur­der bal­lads. For all his avant-garde bona fides—including his many col­lab­o­ra­tions with exper­i­men­tal gui­tarist Marc Ribot—few con­tem­po­rary artists as Waits best exem­pli­fy the “old, weird Amer­i­ca” Luc Sante describes as the “play­ground of God, Satan, trick­sters, Puri­tans, con­fi­dence men, illu­mi­nati, brag­garts, preach­ers, anony­mous poets of all stripes.” Each of these at one time or anoth­er is a char­ac­ter Waits has played in song.

Waits’ old, weird Amer­i­cana is wild­ly askew even for gen­res that prize the off-kil­ter. He went from mak­ing records that sound like Hollywood’s seed­i­est cor­ners to records that sound like drunk march­ing bands in machine shops. By 2004’s Real Gone, his voice mod­u­lat­ed into a ter­ri­fy­ing bark that com­mands atten­tion and respect, yet still com­mu­ni­cates with all the emo­tive pow­er of the most angel­ic sopra­no.

You can hear Waits’ tran­si­tion from iron­ic lovelorn croon­er to demon­ic car­ni­val barker—and a few dozen more old, weird Amer­i­can characters—in the 24-hour, 380-track Spo­ti­fy playlist just above. It cov­ers Waits’ entire career, from that first, 1973 album, Clos­ing Time, and its fol­low-ups The Heart of Sat­ur­day Night and Nighthawks at the Din­er, to Rain Dogs, Bone Machine, Blood Mon­ey, and his last stu­dio album, Bad as Me, “a fun reminder,” Mur­ray writes, “of Waits’ abil­i­ty to be a badass when nec­es­sary.” I’d say, if you’ve heard Waits’ deep, grav­el­ly growl at any stage of his career, you’d hard­ly need remind­ing.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Tom Waits Makes a List of His Top 20 Favorite Albums of All Time

Tom Waits For No One: Watch the Pio­neer­ing Ani­mat­ed Tom Waits Music Video from 1979

Tom Waits Sings and Tells Sto­ries in Tom Waits: A Day in Vien­na, a 1979 Aus­tri­an Film

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.